Jamie Joseph praised the resilience of his Highlanders side as Matt Faddes and Waisake Naholo each scored twice to snap Crusaders' eight-match winning run in a brilliant 34-26 Super Rugby victory.
Outside centre Faddes was rewarded for a brilliant individual showing in Dunedin, while Naholo now has four tries in two matches since returning from a broken leg.
Crusaders were punished for failing to capitalise on a bright opening, Jordan Taufua and Israel Dagg scored their tries and Richie Mo'unga contributed 16 with the boot.
And Highlanders coach Joseph was elated with how his side held firm against a side blessed with New Zealand internationals.
"I'm really proud of the team, we were under a lot of pressure for about 20 minutes. There was a little bit of luck but I guess the resilience is what I am proud of," Joseph said.
"There was moments there where a lesser team would have bowed, particularly against the Crusaders who are littered with All Blacks. But once we were able to absorb the pressure it didn't dent out confidence."
In Friday's other contest, Brumbies made it back-to-back wins by holding off a Rebels fightback in a 30-22 win.
Highlanders 34-26 Crusaders
Crusaders' quick start only yielded nine points from Mo'unga's boot, and Naholo continued his prolific form to score the game's opening try. The impressive Faddes scored in each half either side of Naholo's second, but a yellow card for Joe Wheeler for a late tackle hindered Highlanders in the 55th minute. Taufua made the most of the numerical advantage, but Liam Squire scored Highlanders' fifth for a bonus point, rendering Dagg's late score a consolation.
Rebels 22-30 Brumbies
Brumbies also earned a bonus point in a tight contest against Rebels. First-half tries from David Pocock, Rory Arnold and Christian Lealiifano helped the visitors to a 20-10 lead by half-time in Melbourne. Reece Hodge and Sefanaia Naivalu tries for Rebels sandwiched Scott Fardy's effort for Brumbies to leave them trailing by just three points. However, Nigel Ah Wong quelled the comeback with a crucial score in the 71st minute.
THE KEY MOMENTS
Crusaders thought they had scored twice in the opening stages, but tries for Kieran Read and Luke Romano were both chalked off. Highlanders soon capitalised when a quick tap resulted in Lima Sopoaga picking out Naholo on the right wing to kick the visitors into gear.
Rebels had fought back valiantly in the second half, but a key contribution from Brumbies debutant Jordan Jackson-Hope proved crucial as his pass found Ah Wong to score in the right corner.
"We started really well, we put them under a lot of pressure and held the ball but we just couldn't get a fifty-fifty to go our way. If anything I thought we probably looked frustrated after being so dominant and getting no reward for it," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder rues his side's luck.
"They [replacements] all came on and made a difference, that's what you want from your reserves to make a difference. I'm proud of them," Captain Stephen Moore hails Brumbies' replacements.
Highlanders now have the same amount of points as Crusaders and Chiefs in a bunched-up New Zealand Conference, while Brumbies remain the top team in Australia.